The founders of Brixton BookJam, Emma Pickard and Zelda Rhiando, tell us more about the first ever Kids' BookJam which is happening on Saturday 18th October.
Could you tell us a bit more about the original BookJam?
The Brixton BookJam is a free quarterly reading event that we started in July 2012. Every event features 12 writers, who read or speak about their work for five minutes at our regular venue The Hootananny in Brixton. We wanted the BookJam to be open to everyone in the community - not just for the audience by making it free but also for our writers. So one of defining features is that we give published and unpublished authors an equal billing. This gives it unpredictable, eclectic and diverse edge which draws a large and enthusiastic crowd that ranges from the literati to those that would probably wouldn't consider themselves readers.
What led to you creating Kids' BookJam?
We've done BookJams in all kinds of places – including a two-day residence at the Lambeth Country Show that featured dog burlesque by the ever-wonderful Dame Amanda Rogers. While we were at the Country Show Sarah Rogers, a Tate author, ran a "how to draw" workshop for kids and throughout the whole weekend we had an "endless story" on a roll of paper, written by anyone wandering by - which led to Ermintrude getting drunk on chucklehead, but that’s another tale. More and more people began to ask us to put on a Kids' BookJam – with the same principles of openness, short readings, unpredictability and irreverence that powered the adult version. There is a growing awareness of how literacy levels are falling and in the need for more diverse books and we felt this was the right time to launch the Brixton Kids' BookJam. We want to create an inclusive event that is open to all kids, and bring something special into the lives of the children that live in the estates around, as well as the broader population of Brixton.
What have you got going on on the day?
There will be three sets of writers reading short excerpts from their work, with intervals in between where smaller groups of kids can work with writers to learn about their process and get creative themselves. You will find our schedule on our website. Writers on the day will include:
- Piers Torday (The Last Wild, Quercus)
- Emer Stamp (The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig, Scholastic)
- Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow (London Calling!, Tate Publishing)
- Andrew Weale (Spooky Spooky House, Corgi)
- Margaret Bateson-Hill (The Silver Flame, Catnip Publishing)
- Tamara MacFarlane (Amazing Esme, Hodder Children’s)
- Mandy Burton (The Loveliest Loo, Low-impact Living Initiative)
- Sam Hepburn (Chasing the Dark, Chicken House)
- Jan Devenish (unpublished French children’s author)
We also have Smart Stories who specialise in workshops that encourage children to be more creative and write more. Tales on Moon Lane will be also be running a pop-up book stall with the help of local children, who will be on hand to recommend their favourite books!
Who should come along?
The Kids' BookJam is for 5-12 year olds, with sessions broadly focused on 5-7, 7-9 and 8-12 age ranges. We really want the event to be inclusive and to inspire kids to read and write more themselves, so the writers will be introduced by children. We have been in contact with local schools to ensure that everyone knows it’s happening, and like all of the other events so far, it will be absolutely free. We have also been offering teachers the opportunity to use BookJam as a reward platform by nominating a piece of work to win one of our OWL awards (Outstanding Writers We Love), offering the kids the opportunity to read their work alongside the professionals. We would love to be there at the moment a child falls in love with reading… that would make it all worthwhile.
-What are you plans for future Kids' BookJams?
We would like to run at least one event per term at our Brixton venue, making it a regular event like the Brixton BookJam. We hope to be able to expand into running events for more specific age groups, especially YA, and working in partnership with Smart Stories and the wonderful Tales on Moon Lane to take the Kids BookJam directly into schools.
Why do you think it's important to have these events for kids?
There are many young people in Lambeth whose only experience of book events is when an author comes into their school - and while these are fantastic it's often only the most engaged local schools that have the contacts and funding to organise these kinds of events. Local bookshops are also great at getting authors to come along for signings, and provide a really welcoming atmosphere, but parents on a low income might struggle to take their kids to such events because they feel pressured to buy books. We wanted to create something that is truly free and allows children to experience a range of literature at one event without having to go to a literary festival. The first event is at Number 6 Brixton – a wonderful community space on Somerleyton Road in the heart of Brixton. We chose this space partly because of the great work that Brixton Come Together has done in making it an inclusive and fun venue for a whole range of events, but also because it is smack bang in the centre of one of Lambeth’s most deprived wards, and we think that we can bring something special into the lives of local children as well as the broader population of Brixton.
Author of The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig, Emer Stamp, is going to be at the first ever Kids' BookJam, here she gives her top tips for aspiring writers:
1. Write about something you know: Writing about something you know, or that interests you, is always a good place to start. Though you may be creating a completely new world, it really helps to have something you know or understand in your world, to refer back to. Think of this as a mental database you can cross-reference when you find yourself looking for characters, plots, or even just little asides.
2. Plan your journey: Have an idea of your beginning, middle and end. Write out a brief synopsis; then grill each section and make sure it’s the best it can be. It may be helpful to share this with your editor, to check you are both "on the same page". Once you have your story mapped out, then you can really start to write. Of course, if new and more interesting material pops up along the way, you can always deviate from your plan. But, conversely, if you find yourself losing your way, you can always refer back to it for guidance.
3. Find a clear tone of voice: The bookshelves are packed with books; jacket design alone is not enough to help you stand out. Create a tone that you can own and that your readers can recognise. This will not only help you sense-check your work (does what you have written fit within the tone you have set out to develop?), it also creates a world your readers can immerse themselves in.
4. Keep a notebook: You never know when you might overhear something that sparks a thought, or when an idea might pop into your head. Having a pen and paper to hand ensures that these thoughts will never be lost. There is nothing worse that racking your brain for that great idea you just can’t remember (though if it truly is great, chances are you will never forget it). A notebook is also a great thing to reference. Those silly thoughts you had years ago, may not seem so silly when you revisit them - if you’re lucky!
5. Try to enjoy the ride: Writing a book is no easy task. You will encounter some wonderful highs along with some monumental lows. There will be moments when you feel like throwing your laptop out of the window and disappearing to a place your editor will never find you. But this pain is only temporary; though it may feel it will never end, it will. And hopefully, when it does, you will have created something truly amazing. Try to hold onto this thought and enjoy the ride - being published soon eclipses any pain you may have suffered along the way.